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Tactile Picture Books Project uses 3D printing to make picture books for blind kids

If the mark of truly great technology is variability of application, then 3D printing deserves an award. From blood vessels to spaceships and everything in between, it now seems difficult to find an industry that 3D printing has not yet infiltrated, and for the better. Now, the latest application of the technology may be the most heartwarming. The Tactile Picture Books Project is creating children’s books for a very special demographic: the blind.

The idea is simple: Make text itself a tactile experience, with pictures built into the sentences of stories themselves. Geared towards youngsters who have yet to learn braille, the team behind the Tactile Picture Books Project found, “As children become to learn braille, they might recognize some texts, but 3D-printed pictures of the objects will be also a critical thing children develop their literacy through the context.”

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To create their books, the team at the University of Colorado Boulder replaced some words with 3D figures embedded directly into the page. Using beloved children’s classic Alice in Wonderland as a base, these ingenious creatives brought some of the strangest situations Alice encounters to life with 3D-printed objects that children can feel on the page, allowing for an entirely new experience. “3D-printed texts can be changed into braille too, so that blind children can follow this tactile story with their finger,” the team notes on its website. “This process is easily automated by the image processing, which takes picture of the words and convert into words.” After the words are recognized, an algorithm searches a 3D figure warehouse and inserts the resulting object into the position where the words once were.

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The Colorado team’s mission statement is simple: “We create 3D printed tactile picture books for children with visual impairment and study the scientific and technical questions that arise,” their website reads, and already, they have created books based on Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Dear Zoo.

Sure, this group of professors and student agrees, a picture is worth a thousand words. But there has to be another way to “see” them to convey the same message.